Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats (Grant Heslov, 2010)

When I first saw the poster for this film I laughed out loud. Despite the all-star cast featuring some of Hollywood's most respected actors, the poster alone had me interested in this film. So, you could say that this was a much anticipated release for me come 2010. The trailer had it's moments and it looked like a Coen Bros. film, similar in oddball status to Burn After Reading. Unfortunately, The Men Who Stare at Goats is a big disappointment, and fails on almost all levels. With jokes so few and far between, it almost fails to be a comedy, but the dramatic elements are far from satisfying, the dual plot lines are convoluted and messy and the performances largely ordinary. Bluntly, it was boring! Directed by Grant Heslov, who worked with George Clooney on the Academy Award Nominated film Good Night and Good Luck, the film is an adaptation of Jon Ronson's 2004 novel of the same name. The novel was an investigation into the U.S Military's development of a special squad that utilized psychic powers to aid the war effort. The film's central protagonist is reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who flies to Kuwait to investigate the Iraq war, after his wife leaves him. It is at a bar that he meet Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a man who claims to have been a member of a military squad of 'Jedi warriors' or psychic spies. Throughout the film, in a parallel plot thread, we are revealed to origin of this squad through the leadership of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). Django created a New Earth Army of psychic professionals that utilized the full spiritual potential of its recruits to foster a peace movement. Django received support from Cassady, but it was Kevin Spacey's Larry Hooper who mistreated the potential of their skills and tried to use their powers for dangerous interrogation/torture practices. Wilton and Cassady begin a crazy mission through the desert in search of Bill Django. They are kidnapped and involved in a firefight between two rival security agencies, crash into a rock and spend days trekking the desert. The comedy of the pair is fairly stale with some moments of brilliance. Clooney is perhaps the best performance in the film, but remained irritating throughout. The title refers to a psychic experiment introduced to test the powers of the squad members. The goal was to kill a goat just by staring intently at it and imagining its death. Cassady succeeded and left the squad believing the experiment inhumane. In the final scenes, when Cassady and Wilton are rescued in the desert and taken to a research facility, they discover it is being run by Hooper and Django. Psychic experiments are continuing and the test subjects are herds of goats and some captured locals. The pair, with the help of Django, contaminate the drinking water with LSD and release the subjects, with Wilton returning home and reporting the story to the media. One of the cleverer addresses by the film is the good vs evil politics of the Jedi Warriors. Django's methods were to aid the military in finding uncharted locations, and to disarm the enemy using psychic forces, not violence. But Hooper had darker plans. The adapted script is a mess, with the converging present/past story arcs never proving engaging. Characters are quickly introduced and then seemingly forgotten, and while time is given to each character to address his role, they till feel shallow by the end of the film. The direction feels unassured, and the performances, especially Kevin Spacey (who is normally excellent) are disappointing. While I can't say the film has been overhyped, I was looking forward to it, and had high expectations. In the end I felt bored. It was flat and unengaging, and while it presents some interesting alternative military ideas and a humorous portrayal of the military regime, it just isn't remotely memorable in any way.

My Rating: 2 Stars

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